Sunday, January 28, 2018

Celebrating Shanne

This is to celebrate Shanne Bradley, founder member of The Nipple Erectors, who auditioned Shane McGowan (who recently celebrated his 60th birthday) for the band she was forming. Shanne is now a multi-instrumentalist.
Like a lot of women musicians at the time, history seems to want to forget her. She appears in our documentary Stories from the She-punks: music with a different agenda and is a wonderful raconteur. Just putting her back where she belongs!

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Shortest Gig Review Ever

That was a bonzer gig last night, for a trillion reasons.
Sending you love from Darn Sarf Brian, from everyone.

Friday, January 26, 2018

Latest Music Bar Tonight, Brighton

The weather is going to be perfect, the chops have been sharpened, the Horns have been assembled from far-flung and exotic places (Webridge, Southend and Watford). The set list is written, the French words learned and then forgotten, the Asbo Dereks preparing their provocations and searing pop. You must be mad not to come. I don't care if it feels like a long way from Hastings! I don't care if it feels like a long way from Pecehaven! I don't care if it feels like a long way from Rottingdean or Portslade! Or Firle, Hassocks or Lewes!
 It will be worth it, because you are worth it (apologies to hair shampoo and cosmetic manufacturers).

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

French Footsteps

Friday in Brighton

This is one of only two Helen and the Horns gigs this year, supporting the fabulously astringent Asbo Derek in Brighton! Horns on stage 9 p.m. and Asbo on stage 10 p.m.
There will be vinyl on sale (old stuff from us, new stuff from the Asbos) and I will also be selling old stock of a Helen and the Horns compilation CD for a mere fiver (this isn't the Damaged Goods compilation, it's a CD that was brought out about ten years ago). Come along and dance your January blues away. There is no better plan for Friday evening, believe me.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Daylight Music Today at the Union Chapel

What? Wake up and do a gig at rock'n'roll breakfast time? Who are you kidding?
You know what, this event was a lovely surprise for a billion different reasons. You have to go along to one of these!
Outside it was chilly and drizzly, but Daylight Music know how to treat their artists, and they had piled the dressing room full of tea, coffee, quiche and cake. They had warmed the chapel up (did they start that last night?). There were helpers aplenty, everyone knew what they were doing (including us, the artists, because the communication with us was exemplary), so from the outset the omens were great.
The first act was the Perfect English Weather, aka the Popguns, with the pop but minus the guns (that didn't quite work, did it? But this was Wendy and Simon on guitars, with bass and drums in the imagination). Their songs are really memorable, and Wendy's strong, beautiful voice carried them up to the rafters of the chapel and beyond. They have new material that is every bit as catchy as the songs that I was more familiar with, and the audience drifted along with their easy, positive vibe and their irresistible warmth. Rain? Grey skies? Forget it! Magic happens at gigs like this, right from the start. The applause at the end of their set said it all.
In between sets, Simon Fox played ambient music on an acoustic guitar, which prevented the intrusion of music that nobody wanted to listen to, from somebody's iPod. Regular gig-goers will know how often this happens, and it was a stroke of genius to have this instead. This allowed change-overs to happen quickly and the genial MC Ben to get the audience ready for the next performer.
My bit? I loved it. There were a lot of people there but I could tell the sound engineer was doing a really good job. Church buildings can have weird acoustics but what was bouncing back sounded good. It was particularly nice that there were children there, running around dressed as princesses or just dressed as themselves- and lots of elders, too; this was a proper all-ages gig.
Judy Dyble (formerly of Fairport Convention) and Andy Lewis were augmented by a group that included drums, keyboards and autoharp, with Robert Rotifer, who like Andy plays in Louis Philippe's band, on acoustic guitar, and a violin player called Alison who plays with a band called The Left Outsides. Judy's voice is clear and warm, and there were lush vocal harmonies in their music, which I scribbled down as being pastoral psychedelic in style. Just when you thought a song was going to come down to land in a particular spot, it landed somewhere else; for a muso this is like a puzzle that has to be solved, and I now need to listen to lots of their songs to work out what is happening. Judy took 35 years off, and I'm bloody glad she's back again. Their version of Nick Drake's Northern Sky was so lovely it made me cry. There was something in it that summed up the whole experience: us in our coats sitting listening, children running around, people smiling, a lovely chapel in the middle of London on a rainy day, people having bothered to turn out on a Saturday lunchtime (about 275 people, apparently), being part of something like this when life has sometimes been so harsh. Music is a healer, and transcends the musicians who play it. Big thanks to John Jervis for putting this bill together, and inviting me.
The dressing room bantz was pretty cool, too.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Walk Tall

At the risk of repeating myself, this has long been my mantra. It wasn't what my Momma told me, but what Val said.

Words from a Wise Man

About ten years ago a Wise Man told me that some people accuse other people of doing exactly what they do themselves, and criticise them for it. This was an very interesting observation, and can help with the understanding of incomprehensible situations. It's also a warning to be careful of complaining and accusing, without checking first to make sure you're not guilty of exactly the same thing yourself.
Slogan t-shirt on the way...

Thursday, January 18, 2018


The Last Line

Last line, last verse of the song. It took months with Heaven Avenue, and there's another one like that nagging away in my head. Just leave it on the shelf, get on with something else, and it will pop up like dawn on the horizon,

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

An Unusual Afternoon

Yesterday afternoon I took a group of MA students to The House of Commons to look around, and sit in the Visitors' Gallery. We were kindly invited by a chap who used to like The Chefs, and once we'd been through airport-style security, we had the opportunity to experience something that is a public right- entering the House of Parliament- shown round by someone who loves the place to bits.
It was incredibly impressive to stand in massive stone-flagged room that was built 1000 years ago, with a ceiling so high you felt that you'd need a helicopter to change the light bulbs. Everything in the building is beautifully crafted, from the mosaics on the floors to the wooden fretwork and panelling and the paintings that are hundreds of years old. I hadn't realised how badly bombed it had been in the second world war but much of it has been rebuilt, although some of the very old parts survived.
Our host was full of hilarious anecdotes- Michael Jackson trying to buy the gold throne in the House of Lords when he was given a tour, for instance.
In the visitors' gallery, we were prepared to be bored but there was a very interesting paper on Human Rights and the EU that involved some gracious interaction between the Labour and Tory MPs, with John Redwood sitting there and twitching with fury, trying to interject. It was a luxury to hear a well-researched and articulate discussion that was a million miles away from the irritating and publicity-seeking MPs who make sure they are splashed across the newspapers for saying practically nothing.
Going to witness government in action is an experience with much to recommend it, especially if you're feeling disillusioned with politics. It's not hot-headed and dramatic like Prime Minister's Questions, which is more of a furious showcase of party politics. This was the measured and well-argued presentation of facts.We could have sat there all afternoon, and I wish we had- apparently one of the Tories fell asleep later on during Ken Clarke's speech. But for a group of students, none of whom ticked the 'powerful British white man/woman' box, this was an oddly heartening experience.
Tip: make sure you haven't got a pair of scissors in the bottom of your bag!

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Monday, January 15, 2018


Straight back into life today; I finished and submitted an academic article, which was a relief (What stress! Retrieving the password, putting the finishing touches into the style template, wondering if everything it said was true). There was marking to do and a massive list of administrative things which knocked me out just by looking at it.
There is a new song to put up on Youtube, but I only got about 3 hours sleep last night so it will have to wait until I look and sound like a human being rather than some sort of exotic roadkill that has been shocked back to life.
Half of me hates January, and the other half loves it. Being inside looking out at the midday gloom can feel quite snug, but the thought of that gloom lasting into the foreseeable future is a bit grim. I'm going to go to Edinburgh for a few days to stamp about on the frozen grey pavements thinking about McMum and McDad, who no longer live there because they have both passed away. Somehow I think their spirits are still around, drifting between there and Perthshire. It is almost ten years since McDad died; I still have his gardening hat, and the smell of woodsmoke from his shirt when I used to sit on his lap as a child on Sunday afternoons is as easy to recall as anything that happened yesterday. He was quiet a lot of the time, and it's nice to sit in the same room as a person like that: peaceful.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

What You Been Doing This Avo?

Learnink my sonks, darlink.💚

Where All The Sparrows Went

A couple of years ago, people were lamenting the lost sparrows of London. I can confirm that they are all in Lausanne, outside the Lausanne Youth Hostel where a cacophony of chatter can be heard at seven o'clock in the morning in January. Some of them are at Lausanne Metro station too, eating crumbs on the platform.
Yesterday I got up early and had a wander around the city as it woke up. The mountains across the lake were invisible again, hidden by January lake mists, but the air in the city was clear and sharp. The streets of Lausanne are steep and cobbled, with a fresh fruit and vegetable market thriving just outside smart chocolate shops. This is French Switzerland, although it seemed like a miniature version of Vienna. In a large department store, posh ladies and gentlemen drank coffee and ate cakes at high benches in the quiet that only money can buy.
The aisles were full of every shape, colour, size and permutation of chocolate. I passed on the churn of chocolates that moos when you open it. Alas, there was no room in my bag, and anyway I still haven't opened the red plastic Christmas SFX device that I bought on a whim in the January sales.
One of the best things was that the train back to Geneva airport was a double decker one!
Through the distant mist, you could see skeletons of trees with no green summer flesh to soften them, layered and silhouetted against the water, with fields of vine stubs crouched over like rows of leaping stoats, next to the tracks. As on Thursday, there were odd juxtapositions: a crazy golf game being played right next to what looked like an enormous power-station, for example.
The plane landed like a feather on a lawn. Coming through Stansted was sad. There was a replacement bus service to Liverpool Street and it was more cheerful to travel with a coach load of people speaking French; it's amazing how easily you become used to another language being spoken around you, and if you don't strain to translate all the time, the music of the speech.

Insect home, UNIL; babbling brook with turquoise water; guitar shop (closed, alas); mooing churn; narnas; spuggy on the Metro; ceiling at Geneva airport (these babies grow to full-size planes in twenty years); shoe shop sign.

Friday, January 12, 2018

I miss...

... the guitar playing bit of the day, which usually lasts at least an hour, is like breathing out a gigantic sigh, and balances out all the other bits of the day in a calming and peaceful way.
No guitars here, alas.

A Day in Switzerland

I have come to a conference in Lausanne to present a paper- it would have been so nice to have spent longer here, but I thought that I would be paying for it myself (the University took a long time to approve funding and consented just before Christmas), so I'm doing it on a nano-budget.
I have seen things from the train (regrettably, not a double-decker, although they had those in Geneva).
It looks like a giant version of Northumberland.
There are huge pom-poms of mistletoe growing in lots of the trees.
There are chicken-yards next to robot factories.
The water in the streams and rivers is a beautiful shade of turquoise.
I have learned...
Swiss people are kind and considerate (a man leaned over to a stranger on the train and offered to lend her his iPhone battery charger when her iPod appeared to have run out of power).
Swiss Youth Hostels are like British hotels.
Quite a lot of French can come out of my mouth if I don't think too hard about it.
I can understand 25% of a French academic paper just with my school French, and because a lot of academic terms are very similar.
It's tiring working out what the remaining 75% means.

Last night I did an interview about my research for a Swiss radio station, so more about that when it its broadcast.

It's a bit cold and misty out there; the guy in the Youth Hostel recommended the beautiful views of the mountains if you walked to the University from the Youth Hostel, but nothing was visible today and a troupe of extremely hungry swans pursued me across the grass from the water's edge so I scooted up here pretty quickly. There's no snow in this part of Switzerland in spite of the avalanches in the Alps; its the same as January in London, minus the dirty drizzle and noise, although it's very much roads'n'rail.
Oh yes- there is some amazing graffiti here.

Countdown to presentation time....

Thursday, January 11, 2018


Dick, who used to drum for The Piranhas in Brighton, has passed away. This is terribly sad because he was quite young and he was such a live-wire as a young man; everybody liked him. He was like everyone's kid brother.
He worked at The Malling Press in Lewes for a while as a printer and left, because the Piranhas started doing really well. I got the job after him, and we both had the experience of being shown the bottom drawer where the National Front letter head was.
'I ain't printing that!', declared Dick, which was brave because he must have only been about 17, in probably his first job.
He was a really good drummer, and when he joined the band they had the line-up that made them successful, partly because of his energy and good time-keeping (metre-wise; I have no idea if he was a teenage whippersnapper and showed up late for gigs and rehearsals).
Even his friends were nice. His best buddy worked for British Rail in Lewes and was always full of smiles if we bumped into each other. Big love to you, Dick xxx

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Next Gig

Busy times- my next gig is Daylight Music at the Union Chapel, 12 noon till 2 p.m. with Judy Dyble, who sang with Fairport Convention, and the Perfect English Weather (that's The Popguns, acoustic).
An academic weekend for me this weekend though- my bag is stuffed with papers and my head is stuffed with thoughts. This is a short posting because I have a lot of travel to organise.

Monday, January 08, 2018


I bought a book of Punch cartoons from a charity shop but this one wasn't in it.
At art college we loved Les; I didn't realise he was a Daumier illustration. Still luv him.

France Gall, Blamed, Revisited

People are debating the late France Gall's claim that she didn't 'get' the innuendo behind Serge Gainsbourg's lyrics, and saying of course she did: that she wasn't naive.
It's much more subtle than that. What she didn't 'get' was the degree of manipulation behind getting a gamine female singer to sing lyrics that turned men on. Young women in the music industry have always been pressurised to sell sex to men, both through their appearance and through sexual sonic identities. Look at Annabella Lwin from Bow Wow Wow- fourteen years old and simulating sex sounds, told by Malcolm McLaren that she was making the 'sounds of falling off a tower'.
There is no choice; young women are on a production line in a fickle industry and if one woman won't 'do' it, then another one will. Despite her provenance as the daughter of a successful musician (and perhaps because of her providence as the daughter of a successful musician: did her father collude in this?), the young woman was duped into voicing the fantasies of a middle aged man.
Did I say 'dirty old git'? No, I wouldn't dare to. #WoodyAllen etc etc etc.....

Sunday, January 07, 2018

Hannah Ryggen at The Museum of Modern Art, Oxford

This is a really, really good exhibition that is well worth the trip to Oxford. The gallery is within walking distance of Oxford railway station; it is not an enormous exhibition, just two rooms, but it's well worth going.
The tapestries are huge, and full of humorous detail. Many of them are coloured using vegetable dyes and Ryggen was entirely self-taught as a weaver. She was a communist and both Hitler and Winston Churchill appear in her tapestries. She was a brave woman who stuck to her principles, even when it was dangerous. I loved the way she had woven her political activism into the work. The colours are vibrant and the composition is immaculate- all the more so because she worked freehand. They are full of character, but also have a sort of serenity about them that is really appealing. They look more primitive in photographs than they do when you're standing in front of them, partly because their size is quite extraordinary, but also because there is the impression of a lot of depth in them, which may be to do with the texture of the fabric. What an amazing woman.
I wish I'd taken more photographs especially of the one with the horse; there is no catalogue unfortunately. It's on till 18th February; these are very unusual artefacts for their time- she was an inspiring forerunner of today's craftivist movement. Go!

Weekend Assortment

Everything is ready for the Working in Music conference in Lausanne on Thursday.
Everything apart from me that is, but I will be ready on Tuesday. Because of chaos in the house, nothing is where it should be. The morning was spent dismantling furniture; there are hundreds of Allen keys somewhere, but I could only find two and they were the wrong size, and I couldn't start work until the ironmonger's opened.
If there is a new year's resolution to be made, it is to put everything with all the other everythings; this works just fine, until the Offsprogs visit. There are three copies of the Toots and the Maytals CD (I think) because each of them took a copy off to college with them (I think) and brought them back when I'd replaced the copy that I thought I had, but didn't.
My nose is running because of the dust, and all that lifting and shifting was knackering.
There is more to do in a bit, and the washing machine is limping through its last wash before the replacement arrives tomorrow. I'm assuming that the new one will have an enormous manual and be impossible to programme at first, and in anticipation of that the old one is being forced to work for the last few cycles. It is very reluctant and is making a series of grunts and groans to express its martyrdom, but I'm a hardass Mum-type, resistant to emotional blackmail even from a machine. Every so often it stops and flashes all of its little lights at once, beseechingly, but it's no good.
It's no good.

It is also gig-booking time of year, and that's a bit like that game where you have a plastic square with random sliding letters, and you have to slide them around until you have made a word. It doesn't help that the list complied from what everyone sent last year went down with the ship before Christmas when the computer malfunctioned; however, last year was just so brilliant on that front that it has to be done again, and it will be.
Toodle pip!

Friday, January 05, 2018

Thursday, January 04, 2018

Working in Music, Lausanne

After a 7.30 start, I have finished writing the paper on women producers for the conference next week.
Early morning news reports said that high winds in Switzerland derailed a train outside Lausanne, so I hope that's the drama over for this year.
I remember flying to Limerick about 5 years ago and landing in a hurricane-force wind. I couldn't work out why the pilot was twisting and wobbling until later, when the TV news reports at the hotel reported the freak weather conditions. If I'd known at the time I would have had hysterics.
To get away from the screen, I've been out in the rain to get a newspaper. Ring-a-ding ding! Such luxury. Next thing is to finish editing the article, but I think a bit of singing and songing ought to happen before that particular project.

Wednesday, January 03, 2018

Academical Thinking

Well, the problem is if you have to edit and adapt your own stuff.
I'm working on a paper for a conference next week that involves developing a paper that I presented a couple of years ago in Aalborg in Denmark, and also an article that I had submitted for one journal who didn't want it in its current form, and has now been accepted for another but has to be 1000 words shorter.
Over the hols I've read a couple of books that make a difference to both of them: Anne Karpf's book The Human Voice: the story of a remarkable talent, and Jennifer Fleeger's Mismatched Women: the siren's song through the machine. I got up at 7.30 this morning to start writing but ended up doing admin work before heading down to Gina's to do Art (oh how lovely that was!).
In the end I only wrote and edited for two hours, so I'll have to get up early again tomorrow and plunge into words again. It really matters to get these things right, and no amount of procrastination, and preferring writing songs to writing academic articles, will help.
Meanwhile we are trying to find a venue for Asbo Derek and Helen and the Horns to play at on Friday the 26th January in Brighton. Most of the people who read this blog seem to be Russian or French, according to the stats, so it's not much use asking you, is it?
Unless you simply want to send us good vibes across land and sea, which of course will be enormously appreciated by both bands.


Written a 45 second song about hares. It's a bit squeaky but then so are hares.

Monday, January 01, 2018


Hooray for Westerns! John Wayne lives in Wayniverse, riding from film to film without so much as the blink of an eye. Pchhh! Pchhh! bullets; the whinnying of a panicking horse and the chaotic, asymmetric thumping of hooves on desert sand.
Thwack! The punch on the sweaty chin of the baddy.
You don't even need to watch. It all just happens anyway.
Hooray for Westerns!

A Popular Toy, Rebranded

If you are of a timid disposition, please look away now.
I was almost certain that I'd posted about this before but apparently not.
One of my friends bought me a plastic boy called The Farting Wee-boy at Deptford Market aeons ago. Even the packet was cool- there was a little speech bubble next to its nether regions that said 'Wee wee, boo boo'. When you pulled its little breeks down it squeaked, and if you'd filled up the water chamber, a stream of water simultaneously squirted out of a little hole in the front of its body.
It was dressed as a Just William- era schoolboy with a maroon plastic blazer, grey shorts and a maroon and grey peaked school cap. It had an innocent expression on its face- in fact, it was almost completely inexpressive. She told me at the time that the stall holder looked really embarrassed because he had nothing else on his stall except piles of boxes of Farting Wee-boys.
Eventually the boo-boo bit stopped working and I passed the little feller on, but I kept the packet because it was brilliant. Now she has been in touch because she has bought herself a Wee Wee Water Squirter and she is puzzled because there's no farting in the current model. Looking at the box, the boy now has a sinister and self-satisfied smile as a lurid stream emanates from his body. The actual toy itself no longer wears a school uniform, but instead has a casual yellow sweater and a yachting cap. The activation mechanism is a button on the base, rather than a pair of hard plastic shorts.
Oh, how times have changed.

About 2017

It's not always wise to look back, but it is good to identify a feeling that has come about through a sea-change in life. Last year was one of the most positive and happy years of my personal life, because I reconnected with the way that I felt when I first left home and went to Sunderland Art College to do a Foundation Course, where everything that had gripped me and controlled me as a child and a teenager just fell away. I was in an environment of misfits, for it seemed that everyone odd in the whole of the north-east of England had congregated there and started to blossom. It was exciting and liberating; we made our own community and although it was only temporary, it was thrilling.

It had felt like a slog sitting for hours and days trying to sort out gigs in January last year, but it was bloody worth it (I'm just about to do the same again). The tour was such an adventure. I had been fully prepared for all sorts of disasters and I suppose you could say that I'd set the bar really low; I just thought, 'What do I want to spend the year ahead doing?', to which the answer was, 'Playing my songs all over the place'.
The major thing that went wrong was buying a crappy car in an emergency. It continues to be a crappy car but I can't replace it at the moment because the washing machine has just broken, and I need clean clothes more than I need a car. The car was positively dangerous, and I almost got killed on the M6, but I had no passengers and I got to the gig and it was a good one, so what the heck.
The major thing that went right was realising that I have good, good, friends and the respect of my peers. I had thought that I needed a mediator for this, but it's been a complete revelation to realise that, to put it in a way that possibly only people with similar levels of low self-esteem might understand, I exist.
There has been time for writing songs and drawing, for learning new things (so many new things), and for thinking; all those hours travelling, all those troubles unravelling! I have so appreciated friendships and my two Offsprogs; I would name the angels, but I don't want any more wings torn off. One thing has risen to the surface after all the rubbish has been cleared away: that the greatest gift that you can give to an honest person is the truth, and beside that all other gifts are worthless.